The following additional conversations have been lightly edited for clarity. For full article, see A Great Divide: The Election Fight for California’s Schools.
Doesn’t the academic performance of California students have a lot to do with being near the bottom of the state on money spent per pupils?
Definitely funding has to play a role . . . but it doesn’t play the only role. I can share this from pure experience because I’ve worked in schools where we had limited funding and had better results. Also, at some schools where we actually got more funding the results didn’t necessarily translate into great success.
How do you counter arguments that Mr Torlakson has more classroom experience than you?
I’ve spent the last 12 years working directly in education, working with kids and parents, working with teachers, hiring principals, developing principals,
As the Vergara v. California trial ends its fourth week, the most conspicuous absence from the plaintiffs list may be that of the man most responsible for bringing the education lawsuit — David Welch, the 52-year-old Silicon Valley entrepreneur and founder of Students Matter. His Menlo Park-based nonprofit initiated Vergara and is picking up all of the plaintiffs’ attorneys and PR fees — a bill that was running nearly $3 million even before Welch’s high-powered legal team first set foot in Los Angeles Superior Court for the trial.
Vergara was filed on behalf of nine students and seeks to erase nearly a hundred years of teacher protections from the state education code that were adopted to prevent discriminatory and capricious terminations. The suit claims that five statutes addressing teacher dismissal, seniority and tenure disproportionately harm minority students in high-poverty schools by making it too difficult to fire incompetent teachers.
Are job protections for teachers to blame for educational underachievement among low-income students of color in California? That’s the provocative question ostensibly at the heart of Vergara vs. California, which seeks to invalidate the tenure, due process and seniority rights of hundreds of thousands of educators.
Astute observers of the nation’s escalating education wars, however, may be asking another question: When did it become permissible to use the welfare of children as a fig leaf for an all-out legal attack on teachers?
Or, as historian and teacher John Thompson wrote recently in Scholastic, “Are corporate reformers unabashedly using the courts as a battleground for battering employees’ rights, as opposed to helping children?”
Sadly, the answer to Thompson’s question appears to be an unequivocal yes. For while the outcome of Vergara will have far-reaching national implications, it is hardly unique in its attempt to scapegoat teachers for sub-par educational performance.
Last week’s testimony in the Vergara v. California trial raised many an eyebrow when Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent John E. Deasy testified on behalf of plaintiffs in a lawsuit whose defendants had originally included LAUSD.
Despite its supporters’ protests to the contrary, Vergara is widely seen as a frontal attack against statutory guarantees of due process and seniority rights for state teachers. The suit is the brainchild of Students Matter, a Bay Area nonprofit created by wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch and partly financed by L.A. billionaire Eli Broad.
Under friendly direct examination by plaintiff attorney Marcellus McRae, the superintendent offered testimony that supported the suit’s contentions that the way in which teachers are fired, laid off and granted tenure has an adverse impact on the overall quality of the teacher workforce and illegally discriminates against low-income and minority students.
Ted Mitchell, the former Occidental College president nominated by the White House to become Under Secretary of Education, is the founder and CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit whose goal, according to its tax records, is “to transform public education through powerful ideas and passionate entrepreneurs so that all children – especially those in underserved communities – have the opportunity to succeed.”
Judging by a look at the group’s website, another part of its agenda may be to gut the seniority rights and other job protections currently enjoyed by California’s public school teachers.
This week the site began prominently featuring news about the Vergara v. California trial now unfolding in Los Angeles Superior Court. When called for comment, a NewSchools spokesman said Mitchell’s group was taking no position on the case.
“We believe it’s an important case with broad implications for education,” the spokesman said.